It’s Identify Theft Awareness Week in the US and with the Federal Trade Commission reporting that cases of identity theft doubled last year to a frightening 1.4million this is something that all of us need to be taking seriously.
One of the reasons for this huge increase is the en masse switch to digital working as a result of Covid-19 lockdown measures and the resulting increase in cyberattacks. In July 2020 Action Fraud in the UK estimated that victims of coronavirus-related scams had lost over £11million.
The most common cases of identity theft involve individuals posing as someone else in order to buy a product or obtain credit in their name. As none of us want to discover that huge amounts of debt have been racked up in our names, it’s definitely worth taking the protection of our personal data seriously.
Sadly, it’s one of those jobs which frequently gets relegated to the bottom of our to do lists. As a result, most of us are leaving our digital front doors wide open for criminals with passwords that are laughably easy to hack and minimal protection on our computers.
Here are eight easy ways to guard your financial and personal data and protect yourself against identity fraud:
1. Destroy sensitive documents
Invest in a shredder and destroy all personal documents such as bank and credit card statements and receipts before chucking them out to avoid ‘dumpster divers’ getting hold of your data. Yes, people really do go through bins looking for information that can be used to steal identities and commit fraud.
2. Be password savvy
We all know the drill when it comes to passwords: long and complicated is best with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols avoiding obvious combinations such as 123456, qwerty or password at all costs. But do you follow the advice? A professional hacker can crack a six-character password in 90 minutes – even one which contains upper and lower case letters as well as numbers – so it really does make sense to use more sophisticated passwords. And make sure you mix them up – the same password for everything is a big no no.
3. Protect your computer
Investing in anti-spyware and anti-virus software for your computer is a must. Keep the software and operating systems on your computer updated to ensure that you benefit from any security patches introduced in the ongoing fight against data thieves.
4. Be wary when revealing personal information
Most of us are au fait with the scam calls from Microsoft and emails from Nigerian royalty offering to pay billions into your bank accounts but the scammers are getting more and more smart and their trickery is constantly evolving to exploit weaknesses as new tech comes online. The golden rule is to never reveal personal information to unverified sources either online or over the phone. Banks and financial organisations won’t ask for this information. If someone is pressuring you into revealing information, this should be a red flag to make further enquiries via trusted channels.
5. Monitor your bank accounts
Our consultants are always shocked at the number of people who don’t keep tabs on bank accounts, credit cards and loans. Make it a habit to check statements regularly for suspicious activity so it can be detected as soon as possible and the necessary steps taken to secure your data in the case of a breach.
6. Destroy digital data
If you’re getting rid of obsolete tech such as old computers, hard drives and other digital storage devices, make sure you erase all personal information first. Tools such as File Shredder can help ensure that data is irretrievably obliterated.
7. Only purchase online from secure and encrypted websites
Limit online purchases to secure websites which feature the small padlock symbol in the address bar of your browser and/or have a web address beginning https:// (the ‘s’ stands for secure). If a site is littered with poor spelling and grammar and intrusive advertising, it’s probably wise to steer clear. If in doubt, Google is your friend for sniffing out scams.
8. Forward mail if you move
When you move house, arranging to have your mail forwarded for at least six months after your move will ensure that important correspondence doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. It will also flag up any organisations or companies you have forgotten to inform of your change of address and ensure that you get all your admin in order.
All these steps are inexpensive and relatively quick to do but will go a long way to securing your personal data and ensuring that you don’t fall victim to fraud.